Margaret Wild's latest picture-book has that rare quality of appealing to readers of all ages.
The plot is simple, describing a visit that the unnamed narrator and his younger sister, Naomi, make to their Grandma, who lives in a large house with Big Cat and Small Dog. Wild then uses a device that young children love-repetitive questions-as Big Cat, Small Dog, and, finally, Grandma all fall asleep and Naomi wants to know what each of them dreams about. In few words, the author then reveals a great deal about her main characters. The narrator, a boy who is naturally drawn to the practical and mundane, gives answers that focus on the obvious: food, everyday activities, and physical comforts. By contrast, Grandma's answers concentrate on everything that is lively and unusual, using memory to create vivid pictures of what each of the sleepers was like in their younger days. For example, Big Cat was a "firecracker kitten, full of fizz and hiss", and she herself was a young girl aglow with excitement as she played hide-and-seek with her friends as night fell. Later that day, Grandma recreates her childhood game for her grandchildren and two of their friends and can't resist joining in, amazing her grandson with her speed and joie de vivre. The book closes with the narrator cuddling Big Cat and reflecting on the day. Having seen how differently his Grandma views things, he is able, briefly, to capture the liveliness that does not come naturally to him, as he imagines himself full of "fizz and hiss", chasing autumn leaves with Big Cat.
Margaret Wild's spare but lyrical text is a joy to read and can be taken on many levels. Children will recognize their own voices in that of the narrator. Even the imagery the author chooses to use is that which might be used by a child and is all the more powerful because of this, having freshness and strength. The smallness of a garden is emphasized by its being described as like a towel, and the narrator thinks of leaves as "cartwheeling" in the wind. Adults, while enjoying the beauty of Wild's writing, will also appreciate the subtlety of her basic premise that everyone approaches things differently and should be allowed to do so whilst being aware that there are other ways of seeing.
After reading the book, the reader is left with a feeling of affirmation and growth, which is heightened by the way in which Anne Spudvilas's warm, richly textured illustrations blend with the text to take the ordinary and transmute it into something magical and memorable.
Gillian Chan is the author of Glory Days & Other Stories (Kids Can).